By Faith Noah Built an Ark
Scripture: Genesis 6:1–8:22
I have been thinking a lot this week about grace. One reason for that is because I was recently given a CD audio version of Philip Yancey’s latest book, What Good is God? I have been listening to it in the car as I drive to and from work. In the book he returns repeatedly to the theme of grace which was the topic of one of his most important earlier works entitled What’s So Amazing About Grace?
But that is only one reason I have been thinking about grace. The second and more important reason is because of a phrase tucked away in Genesis 6:8. There in the midst of this very dark and gloomy picture of man’s sin and wickedness and God’s intention to destroy the world he has made, we find this all important sentence.The King James Version translates it: But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.
It is the first use of the word “grace” in the Bible. It is obviously the key to the rest of the account. This is our second message on Genesis 6-8 and the story of Noah and the Flood. Last week we focused on the reasons for the flood. We looked at the theological lessons in the story; lessons about man’s sinfulness and about God’s holiness and justice.
But clearly there is another side to the story. It is the story of Noah and his family and the animals in the ark and the chance for the human race and the earth to have a fresh, clean start. Last week, we looked at the reasons for the flood. Today we want to look at the reasons for the ark. And central to our discussion is this little phrase: But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.
What is grace, and how does it relate to the story in front of us? I hope you have taken the time to read through the story on your own. Once again, we are not going to take the time to relate the details in the narrative account itself, because I have chosen again to spend our time looking behind the scenes and reading between the lines. I am not using my imagination in doing this, but actually taking the clues given by God himself when he inspired Moses to write these chapters. In Hebrew grammar and narrative style, the authors record the sequential events in the story by using a particular verb form. It says, in effect, “and next…and next…and next…” But from time to time, the narrator stops and fills in important information to help us understand the deeper significance of what is happening in the narrative. Typically he will signal this by using different grammatical forms and particularly a different verb tense. This is what the author does in Genesis 6:8-9. This is important background information we need to understand what is happening in the sequence of events in the story.
To open this brief, but deeply significant aside, he uses these words: But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. So what is grace? Particularly, what is the Old Testament concept of grace and how is this word used in the first 39 books of the Bible? Obviously this is a very big topic. One could write a book or a doctoral dissertation on the subject. But I have tried to simplify it.
In its simplest sense, it means kindness or benevolence. It is the act of showing kindness, mercy, pity or benevolence. It is used often and in many contexts. I was particularly intrigued by the phrase that occurs here: “to find grace in the eyes of…” someone. As I researched it, I found that this is a very common idiom in Hebrew and in the Old Testament. It is used in other contexts of individuals or nations “finding grace in the eyes of God.” But it is also used quite frequently in human contexts, in which people found or requested to find grace in the eyes of other people. As I surveyed these uses, I drew some conclusions about the use of the phrase.
First of all, almost without exception in the usage of this phrase, grace flows downward. It flows from the powerful to the powerless. Esther sought to find favor in the eyes of King Xerxes. Grace flows from the strong to the weak. As a slave in Egypt, Joseph found favor in the eyes of his master, Potiphar. Grace flows from the rich to the poor. Ruth goes gleaning in the fields of a wealthy man in the hope that she will “find favor in his eyes.” Grace flows from the haves to the have-nots.
The second thing I discovered is that grace is bestowed at the initiative or by the will of the bestower. It is his to give or to withhold by sovereign right. Clearly, in Persian law the king had the right to receive or reject anyone who came into his throne room. By the Egyptian law of slaves and masters, Potiphar had the right to assign Joseph any tasks he chose. By property law, Boaz had the right to grant or refuse a stranger access to his barley field.
Clearly then, grace cannot be claimed by the recipient as a right, privilege or obligation. Now that is a lot of baggage to load into this simple statement in Genesis 6:8. But I think it is necessary baggage as we consider this first use of this very important idiom. Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. Grace is flowing downward. It is flowing from the powerful to the powerless. It is flowing from God as Creator and Sovereign King over all that he has made to one of his subjects. This grace is bestowed at God’s initiative and by his will. It was not something Noah could claim or demand, either for himself or for his family. He did not deserve it, nor had he earned it. It is all of God.
This leads us to a very important question by way of application for us. How can we find grace in the eyes of the Lord? Obviously, God’s grace made the difference between life and death for Noah and his family; between destruction in the flood waters and salvation in the ark. As those who are also threatened by the judgment of God for our sinfulness, how can we find grace in the eyes of the Lord? We cannot earn it. We cannot demand it. However, I believe we can request it. We can petition God for his grace; his kindness, mercy and benevolence. But we must approach him in the right spirit and attitude.
By way of application, I want to jump to the New Testament; to one of Jesus’ most important sermons, the Sermon on the Mount. In the opening verses of that sermon, Jesus presented his audience with what have been labeled “the Beatitudes.” They are a series of statements beginning with the words: blessed are… I think we could paraphrase that to “these are the people who will experience the favor and kindness of God.” I think they are very instructive in this context:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Do you notice that there is no spirit of entitlement in these verses? Those who will receive the kingdom of heaven, those who will be comforted, those who will inherit the earth, those who will be filled with righteousness; in other words, those who will be recipients of God’s grace, are those who are humble or poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness because they know, in their hearts they are not righteous. They are those who come, not to demand but to cry out for God’s kindness and favor.
Admittedly, we have wandered rather far afield from Genesis 6 and the account of Noah. But bear with me. In seed form, I believe all of this is carried in this very profound statement in Genesis 6:8: But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.
In returning to the account in Genesis 6, is there anything in the account to indicate that Noah actually did call out to the Lord for grace and mercy? I think it may be found in the idiom itself. “Noah found grace…” There is at least an implication in the wording that if he “found it” he must have looked for it.
But there is more for us to digest in these verses. Whether or not Noah actively sought the grace and favor of God, it is clear that when the grace of God is offered, it must be received. If the grace of God is considered as a gift, there is still the requirement that the gift must be accepted. As those who desire the divine kindness and benevolence of God, we can humbly petition him for it. But when it is offered, how do we receive it? To answer this question, we will again leap forward to the New Testament and the divine commentary on the story of Noah, found in Hebrews 11:7.
By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
I believe we must take this verse together with Genesis 6:8 in order to fully understand the story of Noah. God chose sovereignly to show grace and favor to Noah. The demonstration of that grace was the warning about the flood which was recorded in Genesis 6:13-14: So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. 14 So make yourself an ark…”
God’s grace is expressed in his warning and his provision of a way of escape. “I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth…So make yourself an ark…” That warning is an evidence of God’s grace to Noah. But what is Noah’s part? Faith. Belief. He had to believe the word of God. It was not easy. He had never seen a flood. He had never seen a world-wide judgment such as God was prophesying. In all probability, he had never even seen a boat! God was offering him grace. But he had to believe the offer. He had to believe that what God said was true. He had to believe in spite of the fact that he could not see what was to come. He could only accept it by faith.
That brings us to the next important part of the story. Genuine faith is always marked by obedience.
We are told that “by faith…in holy fear he built an ark.” It was a tremendous act of faith. The belief or faith in God’s words inspired “holy fear.” The word implies reverence; holy awe mixed with fear. He not only believed it with his mind. God’s words inspired reverence, respect, awe, and genuine fear. If God’s words were true, a flood was coming to destroy the earth. And the result of his faith and his fear was to build an ark. He not only built it, but he built it according to God’s instructions. Genesis 6:22 makes it clear: Noah did everything just as God commanded him. He built the ark. It took him 120 years, but he did it. Then when the ark was finished, God told him to gather the animals and enter the ark. Once again we read the words in Genesis 7:5: And Noah did all that the Lord commanded him.
Noah’s faith was expressed in obedience. In fact, his story gives one of the clearest examples we have in the Bible of the link between faith and obedience. Christians have long debated the relationship between the two. Are we saved by faith? Or are we saved by works, by obedience. Even Paul and James sometimes almost seem to be arguing with each other over the primacy of faith and works. But the story of Noah clearly demonstrates how impossible it is to uncouple these two. If Noah had believed God, but not built the ark, would he have been saved from the flood? More importantly, could Noah even claim to believe God’s words if he did not build the ark? Genuine faith will always be expressed in obedience. Faith without acts of obedience is dead. It is not faith at all.
And so, very early in the Divine Record, we have this clear expression and teaching of the centrality of God’s sovereign grace as the key ingredient in God’s dealings with his people. We also see that this grace must be humbly received by faith, and that genuine faith is always expressed in actions, works of obedience.
What further results can we expect to see in the life of one who has received the grace of God by faith? To answer this question, let us turn back to Genesis 6:9: Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God. I must admit I puzzled over this. Was this a description of Noah before God approached him? Before God determined to extend his favor to him? Was he this kind of man and God therefore decided to bless him with salvation? I believe the answer to this question rests in the Hebrew grammar. These two verses (8-9) as I said before, are out of the sequence of events, they are out of the time line. The writer has stepped out of the chronology of the story to give us background information about the main human character of the story. This statement, I believe, is a summary of Noah’s whole life. As such, we are not given a sequence of when he became this kind of person, or what the chronology of his spiritual development was.
As such, I would suggest that this verse gives us a description of the results in the life of one who has received God’s grace by faith. I believe I can justify this claim from the commentary in Hebrews 11:7. The second half of that verse reads: By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
Genesis 6:9 tells us that Noah was a righteous man. Hebrews tells us that his righteousness was a result of faith. We have already had two men in the early chapters of Genesis who found this truth of the righteousness that comes by faith; Abel, who offered a better sacrifice by faith, and Enoch who walked with God by faith and was transferred directly to heaven. Noah is the next in this line. When and how was this faith expressed? Probably in many ways and in many stages in his life, but never more clearly and more dramatically than during the 120 years it took him to build the ark. His was not a righteousness of his own, but the righteousness which God bestows as a gift on those who put their trust in him.
This righteousness was expressed in a godly life style. He is described as blameless among the people of his time. This adjective describes a quality of wholeness, consistency and integrity. It does not describe moral perfection, but a consistent life lived out in contrast to the ungodly generation among whom he lived.
The end of this verse brings us back to a familiar phrase: he walked with God. Literally the original text says: And with God walked Noah. Where have we seen that expression before? It was the epitaph which God pronounced over the life of Enoch in Genesis 5. The life of a believer who has received the grace of God by faith is a life that is marked by obedience and is described as a life that is spent “walking with God.” As I said before, I believe this is a summary description of Noah’s entire life, both before, during and after the Flood.
With this in mind, it is interesting to reread these chapters and see the interaction between God and Noah. God tells Noah how to build the ark. Noah obeys. God tells Noah to gather the animals and enter the ark. Noah obeys. God shuts the door of the ark, and Noah and his family are safe inside as the rain fell and the flood waters rose. Then when God had wiped the earth clean, Genesis 8:1 tells us that “God remembered Noah…” The rain stopped. The waters subsided. Noah keeps sending out birds to find out what was happening on the earth. But it isn’t until God told Noah to come out that he opened the ark and emerged with his family and the animals to begin a new chapter in the earth’s history. Through it all, “Noah walked with God.” It is a wonderful description of a life of a choice servant of God.
I would point to one final snapshot from the story, taken from Genesis 8, after Noah and his family had emerged from the ark. Noah’s very first act was to build an altar and offer burnt offerings to the Lord. It was an act of sacrifice, and an act of thanksgiving, an act of worship and praise. And Genesis 8:21 tells us that the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma. It literally says that the aroma was soothing, tranquilizing, quieting. After the trauma of judgment, there was a hiatus, a calming benediction of worship in the sacrifice of this faithful man of God offered up to the God who had saved him. It is a wonderful picture and a wonderful place to close this message.
Before I conclude, however, I want to make one more leap to the New Testament. What have we learned from the story of Noah that is relevant to us who live post Christ, post cross and post resurrection? Actually, we can learn a great deal, especially about the intricate relationships between the great themes we have been discussing today: the themes of salvation from sin and its consequences: of grace, faith and obedience. I simply want to read one New Testament passage for us to take away and ponder:
It is found in Ephesians 2. In the opening verses of this chapter, Paul paints a very depressing picture of man’s natural condition. We are face to face with the realities that were present in Noah’s day. We are all “dead in trespasses and sins.” But let me begin to read in the last half of verse 3:
Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
It’s all there, isn’t it? Man’s dilemma. God’s grace. His sovereign initiative in extending his grace in Christ. The receiving of that grace by faith, a faith that produces good works and a life of fellowship with God.
don’t know which of these themes God wants you to take away and think about today. Is it the reality of your dilemma as an “object of God’s wrath”? Is it the marvel of God’s grace as he offered it in Christ? Is it the need to receive this gift by faith? Is it the reality that genuine faith always expressed itself in actions of obedience? Noah’s “good works” included building an ark and then building an altar. I wonder what good works God has prepared for you and me to do. The exciting thing is, if we walk with God the way Noah did, we will find out.
QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION
In last week’s message from this text, we discussed the “reasons for the flood”. Briefly review that message and list some of those reasons.
In this week’s message, Pastor Cam focused on the “reasons for the ark”. List as many reasons as you can think of. (Note: don’t be limited to the reasons Pastor Cam gives in his sermon.)
Why do you think it is significant that “grace” is introduced so early in the Bible? How would you define grace? Give some human examples of grace in action. What do you think of Pastor Cam’s statement “grace flows downward”?
How does Hebrews 11:7 shape our understanding of the story of Noah and in particular Genesis 6:8-9?
What is the relationship between grace, faith and obedience? (Use both Genesis 6-8 and Ephesians 2:1-10 in your discussion).
Discuss the application of “good works which God prepared in advance for us to do” in our lives as Christians.